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After hard-fought loss, Steve Clifford and Magic refuse to accept moral victory

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The Magic took no satisfaction because “the goal isn’t to play hard and have a close loss”

NBA: Orlando Magic at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There were plenty of positives to take from the Magic’s performance against the Sixers on Saturday.

Coming off a dreadful performance on Friday, the Magic showed resolve on the second night of a back-to-back. Nikola Vucevic had one of the best all-around games of his career. Evan Fournier broke out of what had been an early season shooting slump.

And most importantly, they held a lead in the closing seconds over one of the league’s best, ultimately falling, 116-115.

While the Magic will no doubt look to build on an encouraging performance in which they played hard, Steve Clifford wasn’t exactly handing out praise after the game. And neither were his players. Instead of accepting the moral victory, they were focusing on what the Magic did wrong rather than what they did right.

With a young team that has been mired in the rebuilding phase for far too long, that’s exactly what you want to see.

And from a coach who is known for specializing in defense and discipline, it’s to be expected.

“We played better and should have won the game, but we made two huge, huge defensive game plan mistakes late that we had defended the whole game,” Clifford told reporters after the game. “You can’t make those mistakes and win on the road against a good team...So whatever, we played better, but that’s not what this league is about. That’s a game right there that was there to be won. There were plays to be made and you’ve got to make them.’’

One of those plays the Magic needed to make but didn’t, was making sure that JJ Redick didn’t get a clean look at another three when Orlando was nursing a two-point lead in the closing seconds. But Redick managed to shed Terrence Ross on a screen reversal and Nikola Vucevic on the switch seemed to be preparing for a drive to the basket by a guy who to that point in the game had drained seven threes.

As a result, Redick was left with an uncontested look that ultimately proved to be the difference.

Defensive miscues as such in late-game situations - as well as some missed opportunities on the offensive end - turned what would have been an uplifting victory into a crushing loss.

“To be able to win on the road against a team like this, you have to be perfect,’’ Fournier told John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com. “We (weren’t) and it cost us the game.’’

If the Magic were to show acceptance with their performance, it would be indicative of the loser’s mentality the organization is so desperately trying to shed. To their credit, the Magic were their own worst critics after the game.

“We can be proud of the way that we fought, but we can’t be satisfied with that because the goal isn’t to play hard and have a close loss,’’ Vucevic said on a night he recorded the second triple-double of his career. “You always learn stuff. Win or lose, you always have to learn, but I think we’re past the point where we can be OK with the learning part. It’s time to turn things around and only be satisfied with winning.’’

Their next opportunity to do so comes on Monday night when they face another of the league’s elite: the Boston Celtics.